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How Did David Prepare to Talk to Goliath? South Africas experience of trade negotiations with the EU

September 2004

Bilal, S. and G. Laporte. 2004. How Did David Prepare to Talk to Goliath? South Africa’s experience of trade negotiations with the EU. (ECDPM Discussion Paper 53). Maastricht: ECDPM.

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Expanding globalisation and increased North-South trading arrangements have led many developing countries to wonder whether they are capable of negotiating new trade regimes that will foster their development. Their lack of experience, combined with their insufficient capacity and generally weak bargaining power might prevent them from effectively defending their interests, particularly in harsh trade negotiations with highly developed countries and regions.

Yet when in 1994 post-Apartheid South Africa finally had the opportunity to rejoin the international community, this is exactly what it did: it negotiated a trade agreement with its key strategic and economic partner, the European Union (EU).

This study documents the experience of South Africa in devising and pursuing its development-oriented trade strategy, in organising itself and in mobilising its limited capacity to conduct negotiations on a free trade agreement with the EU.

This paper reviews the way South Africa organised itself to prepare for and conduct the negotiations on the Trade, Development and Cooperation Agreement (TDCA) with the EU. It identifies the key roles played by strategic considerations, high-level political leadership, strongly coordinated intra-governmental relations, broad consultation with parliament, economic and social actors, dedicated technical preparation and targeted lobbying strategies.

The paper also outlines some difficulties South Africa encountered in its preparations and dimensions in the negotiating process that could have received greater attention. These include the need for greater anticipation of the European decision-making process, proactively influencing the European negotiating mandate at an early stage, more systematically lobbying EU member states to support the South African position, capitalising on political and moral arguments during the negotiations, thoroughly preparing for the final stages of the negotiations where ‘power plays’ tend to dominate, better integrating the concerns and expectations of the subregion and ensuring capacity retention strategies are in place beyond the negotiations.

Though focused on the specific case of South Africa, the paper offers general insights and lessons for how developing countries can effectively prepare for and conduct trade negotiations.

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Economic Transformation and TradeTrade Policy and Economic Partnership AgreementsDiscussion Papers (series)ResearchEconomic Partnership Agreements (EPAs)European Union (EU)AfricaSouth Africa